India leads the world in road accidents, an area where it is far more desirable to be a laggard. India reports the highest number of deaths due to road accidents: in 2010, around 1.33 lakh people died while around 50 lakh people were injured in such accidents. Every day, 360 persons, the equivalent of a full load of a Jumbo jet, are killed in road accidents in India.
The fatality rate in India per 10,000 vehicles is 15% to 20% higher than those of developed countries. The economic loss from road accidents has been estimated at 1.5 to 2% of the GDP. According to a Planning Commission study, the socio-economic loss due to road accidents was to the tune of Rs 55,000 crore in 2000-2001. This would translate into a current loss of more than Rs 1 lakh crore.
Clearly, road accidents are one of the top public health challenges in India; in fact, it is a global challenge. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that road traffic injuries will rise to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030. In the light of this situation, the UN General Assembly has, through a resolution, proclaimed 2011-2020 as the Decade of Action Plan on road safety, with a global goal of stabilising and then reducing the level of road fatalities. Further, the UN General Assembly has asked WHO to prepare a Plan of Action for the Decade, in cooperation with other stakeholders, as a guiding document to support the implementation of its objectives.
In India, the government is engaged in developing a comprehensive action plan with the goal of reducing road fatalities by 50% by 2020. In reality however, the situation is just getting worse.
What is required is a nationwide, concerted, multi-pronged war against road accidents. This war has to be fought on four fronts — enforcement, engineering, education and emergency-care. Strict implementation of existing laws has to be ensured, along with incorporation of road safety in road design, construction and maintenance and widespread dissemination of road safety messages and education of road users. For instance, there is a provision in the Motor Vehicles Act, that all HMV (heavy motor vehicle) drivers must be trained in first-hand trauma care. The enforcement of this provision will help in reducing fatalities.
Communication is our most effective weapon in this war. Road users must be made to realise that their own lives depend on sticking to the rules. They must be made aware that helping accident victims can save lives. More importantly, they must know that if they help an accident victim they stand no risk of harassment by the authorities. The Supreme Court has clarified that no one rushing an accident victim to hospital would be harassed by the police. Nor could a hospital refuse to admit such a victim. Unfortunately, this ruling is not widely known and road accident victims often lie unattended.
Addressing road safety in a comprehensive manner calls for the involvement of multiple sectors like health, education, transport and highways, and the police. The scale of the task, in physical and financial terms, is such that it calls for the active participation and contribution of the private sector.
The forthcoming Union Budget could provide a major fillip to private effort in the area of accident prevention and mitigation if the government were to extend tax benefits to companies and individuals that contribute and incur expenditure on approved road safety projects, along the lines of the incentives that Section 82 of the Direct Tax Code provides to expenditure on promotion of family planning and the prevention of HIV-Aids.
Similar tax breaks are already available to assessees under Section 80GGA of the Income Tax Act, 1961 in respect of certain donations for scientific research or rural development.
Therefore, we propose the inclusion of the following provision in the Direct Tax Code: “An assessee shall be allowed deduction from his income of an amount equal to the expenditure incurred for the purpose of road safety measures under schemes and programmes approved by the central government, the National Highways Authority of India and the Highways Departments of the state governments.”
Such a measure will go a long way towards incentivising wider participation in the war against road accidents, thus saving valuable human lives, reducing the trauma of the families of accident victims and stemming the unacceptable drain on the economy.
(KK Kapila is chairman of the Geneva-based International Road Federation)
The views expressed by the author are personal